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L.A. County backtracks on reports of porn HIV cases

Officials had reported 16 unpublicized cases of HIV-positive performers since a 2004 outbreak. But the county health director now says officials did not know if any of the 16 were performers.

June 17, 2009|Kimi Yoshino and Rong-Gong Lin II

Los Angeles County public health officials backtracked Tuesday on their statements last week that at least 16 unpublicized cases of HIV in adult film performers had been reported to them since 2004.

Despite their release of data to The Times describing the cases as "adult film performers," the county's top health official acknowledged that the agency does not know whether any of those people were actively working as porn performers at the time of their positive test.

Health officials also corrected upward, from 16 to 18, the total number of new cases reported by the Adult Industry Medical Foundation, a San Fernando Valley-based clinic that serves the porn industry, since a 2004 HIV outbreak and the revelation last week that a female porn performer had tested HIV positive.

County public health officials said they had mislabeled all reports from the AIM clinic as adult performers when, in fact, information about their occupation is unclear. Although the clinic was created primarily to serve the porn industry, it serves other clients.

"We have no information on these individuals," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's health officer. "All we have is the number from AIM."

Sharon Mitchell, the clinic's co-founder, told The Times this week that none of the HIV cases cited by the county involved active performers.

"Here's the bottom line: We're an HIV testing center," Mitchell said. "We don't just test the adult entertainment industry. We have a lot of people who come who want testing from the general public."

Mitchell said all previously unpublicized cases involved either a non-performer or an aspiring actor or actress who tested positive, then dropped out of the business.

She said the female actress who tested positive for HIV at their clinic earlier this month remains the only case detected in a working performer since 2004. At that time, a male porn star and three actresses with whom he had performed all tested HIV positive. An unrelated transsexual performer also tested HIV positive the same year. The cases shut down production in Southern California's multibillion-dollar porn industry for a month.

Fielding said Tuesday that the county did little investigation of any of the post-2004 cases and have few details about the individuals, their partners or how they may have been infected. Mitchell, whose clinic settled a breach of privacy lawsuit brought by Darren James, the porn star at the center of the 2004 outbreak, said she could not release names or information because of privacy laws.

Fielding said the county lacks sufficient information to delve deeply into the cases and still has received no formal report on the most recent case.

"The system we have and the laws we have do not facilitate the kind of contact tracing and verification that we'd like to see," Fielding said. "AIDS has been treated separately from other STDs."

State laws allow the county to make partner notification for diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. In HIV cases, the responsibility for notification rests with the medical clinic or doctor, not the county, Fielding said. Clinic officials said the woman had two recent male sexual partners, who in turn had six additional partners between them. All so far have tested HIV negative, according to the clinic.

Fielding said the rate of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea among adult performers is high and that any cases of HIV are to be taken seriously.

"Is what's being done better than nothing? Absolutely," Fielding said of the voluntary testing conducted by the porn industry. "Is it what should be done and what is required in today's world of occupational safety? Absolutely not. . . . To have, in 2009, an occupational hazard that's preventable and subjects individuals to life-threatening diseases is outrageous."

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

ron.lin@latimes.com

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